Reasons and Importance of Crowdsourcing in Libraries

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Library is considered as the heart of an institution. People all over the ages has considered library as a beehive, where they can nurture their set of skills by cumulating the newly generated information and knowlegde. In the present era with this overwhelming growth of knowledge, libraries have gained a corner-stone role in the development of any nation. The services rendered by the library should be impeccable to subjugate this unprecedented proliferation of information.

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Crowdsourcing as ‘the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined(and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call’. Today with this formidable growth of knowlegde, libraries as a stand-alone entity discern it challenging to address this realm of knowlege which could be easliy done by an en masse of people. In order to efficiently minister the user needs, libraries can bestow certain activities to a crowd who are competent enough to accomplish the task,which saves the time of the library as well as revamp the services that are being rendered by the library.


Information has been an intrinsic part of the humanity throughout the years. The technological advances which have been beholden by the millennial generation is the culmination of interrelation between mankind and the realm of knowledge. Information has been a propellant which triggers new ideas and innovation which could in fact enliven human life. Furthermore precise information engenders decision making. Libraries, museums and cultural centres are the institutions which have been entrusted with the storage ,organisation and dissemination of the information. But throughout the years, library has acquired various forms, including the metamorphism from the physical library to digital or virtual library. Moreover in the present era there has been an avalanche of information, which could be either the digital information such as text, audio, video etc or even the traditional information.

However as libraries are being considered as the storehouse of knowlegde , they are obliged to render authentic and credible information to the patrons. The services rendered by the library should be impeccable to lessen this unprecedented proliferation of information. Libraries in the present era must reincarnate to take the edge off the colassal growth of information. Moreover with the advent of Web 2.0 tools, user participation has been an indispensable part of any organisation. In library scenario also users can accomplish several jobs, thus trimming library staff’s job and let them put their mind into more creative and meticulous task. For example users can rate the library services, express their concerns and opinions, put out their ideas, review a book etc.

Crowdsourcing as ‘the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call’. Before delving to crowdsourcing further, one should earn a holistic understanding of what is a library and how does it function in this digital era.

Definition of Library

The word Library has been derived from the Latin word ‘Libraria’ which means a place where books and other reading materials are stored. According to the Oxford English Dictionary ‘Library is a building, room or set of rooms, containing a collection of books for the use for the public or of some particular portion of it, or of the members of some society, or the like; a public institution or establishment, charged with the care of a collection of books, and the duty of rendering the books accessible to those who required to use them’.

The above definition of library has undergone a significant change with the changing times, civilization and culture. Now library is being considered as an ubiquitous space to address the needs of the millenials.

According to Librarian’s Book of Lists, George Eberhart offers this definition: ‘A library is a collection of resources in a variety of formats that is organized by information professionals or other experts who provide convenient physical, digital, bibliographic, or intellectual access and| offer targeted services and programs with the mission of educating, informing, or entertaining a variety of audiences and the goal of stimulating individual learning and advancing society as a whole.’

However a crude definition of library could be, library is a beehive, where people can foster their set of skills by garnering the newly generated information and knowlegde. More over libraries have been widely acclaimed for their outstanding efforts in furnishing authentic and credible information. However in the present scenario with this overwhelming of information we must reinvigorate libraries to satisfy the ever-changing user demands. The ongoing research in this realm of knowledge suggests that adhering to the principles of crowdsourcing can aid in revamping libraries to a certain extent. However understanding the user demands and acting on it accordingly is the key to success.

Significance of Library in Digital Era

Library has been regarded as an essential commodity by the mankind all over the years. However with advent of Web 2.0 and ICT, society was bewildered about the importance of the library as Google and other allied technologies seems to take over the tasks which were earlier discharged by the libraries. But one of the drawbacks of these novel technologies are the lack of ability to furnish authentic information i.e. they have more recall than precision. This in turn gainsay Ranganathan’s 2nd law of library science “Every reader his or her book” by providing inaccurate information. Libraries can outperform these novel technologies in this regard, as they are being commended for their efficiency in providing precise information. This indeed uphold the fact that libraries are still relevant and have an oodles of duties to perform even in this information age.

What is Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing is a recent term in the realm of knowledge. Wikipedia provides a useful starting point to understand the term. An extract of their page 3 from August 2009 reads as follows: “Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor and outsourcing it to a group (crowd) of people or community in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task, refine or carry out the steps of an algorithm, or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (citizen science). The difference between crowdsourcing and ordinary outsourcing is that a task or problem is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific other body. In crowdsourcing the activity is initiated by a client and the work may be undertaken on an individual, as well as a group, basis. Crowdsourcing has potential to be a problem‐solving mechanism for government and non‐profit use.”

The term “crowdsourcing” was initially introduced by Howe who defined it as: “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

The impetus for crowdsourcing arises from the trend of leveraging mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technology, in which individuals are no longer passive browsers but active contributors of valuable information. The core idea of crowdsourcing is to make of use of the intellectual capacity of indiviuals in accomplishing a considerable number of tasks. The idea of crowdsourcing has gained momentum with advent of ICT, since then society has been gravitated to the online space.

Crowdsourcing aids individuals in hanging together, who were hitherto dwelling detachedly in the online sphere. The fillip for this movement was infact the spectacular innovations in the feild of ICT.

Crowdsourcing and It’s Analogous Derivatives

Although crowdsourcing is a recent idea, there exist an oodles number of terms which are being considered analogous to crowdsourcing. This often triggers uncertainity among the scholars and thus it’s need of the hour to hastily delineate the difference between crowdsourcing and it’s cognate derivatives.

I want to expand this and clarify the difference between social engagement and crowdsourcing. Social engagement is about giving the public the ability to communicate with us and each other; to add value to existing library data by tagging, commenting, rating, reviewing, text correcting; and to create and upload content to add to our collections. Crowdsourcing uses social engagement techniques to assist a flock of people achieve a shared, usually significant, and large goal by working collaboratively together as a group. Crowdsourcing also usually entails a greater level of effort, time and intellectual input from an individual than just socially engaging. For example, editing a newspaper require more time than adding a tag to a photograph.

Furthermore, people are completely buffled by the difference between open innovation and crowdsourcing. Open innovation means creating and innovating with external stakeholders: customers, suppliers, partners and your wider community.

Henry Chesbrough defines open innovation as “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate innovation. With knowledge now widely distributed, companies cannot rely entirely on their own research, but should acquire inventions or intellectual property from other companies when it advances the business model (…) Competitive advantage now often comes from leveraging the discoveries of others. An “open” approach to innovation leverages internal and external source of ideas.” However crowdsourcing differs from open innovation on the grounds that the former is based on open call, besides it entails a lower level of engagement and involvement from the stakeholders, than open innovation.

Evolution of Crowdsourcing in Libraries

Crowdsourcing has become a buzzword in the present realm of knowlegde. There has been overwhelming support for incorporation of crowdsourcing principles into different domains, e.g. business, information science, computing. In library domain also people have started espousing the theories of crowdsourcing. Libraries have started making use of the crowd intelligence in rejuvenating the library by assigning various job to the crowd thus mitigating the burden of library staff.

The “Distributed Proofreaders” platform launched in 2002 by the Distributed Proofreaders is considered to be one of the earliest crowdsourcing projects connected with librarianship and especially with libraries collections. The main task of the company created in 2000 was to support the digitization of books in the public domain for resources intended for “Project Gutenberg”. However over the course of time, it has become the prime supplier of content for the project. The digitized texts are being turned into e-books and each scanned book is truncated into individual pages, which enables simultaneous access of many users to make corrections. The scanned text is then processed using the OCR technology. After that, both the scanned pages and the resulting text are presented to the volunteers on one screen. In fact it does make possible to collate texts easily and correct them “leaving” them on the Web in the same place. Morever when another user comes in, he could go through the work of his forerunner. After the correction procedure, using the post-processor (a special type of software), all pages are converted to e-books, which are then sent to the “Project Gutenberg” archive or are available in a way that users can make comments when they notice errors (smooth reading).

Though the idea of crowdsourcing has been perceived as a recent development, in no time libraries around the globe have been engrossed by the concept and have kickstrated various endeavours to uphold crowdsourcing.

Importance of Crowdsourcing in Libraries

Eventhough crowdsourcing has been widely embraced by a considerable horde, many organisations including libraries often consider the idea as nonsensical and futile. One of the main reason has been stated that the implementation of the concept in libraries is still in it’s infancy and whatever has been carried out so far, people feel they are just idiotic and ludicrous. The “Distributed Proofreaders” and “Picture Australia”, the undertakings which have widely deployed the ideas of crowdsourcing have been considered asinine by a faction of researchers and aroused a lot of disapproval.

They felt that implementation of these ideas in libraries is frivolous and why should one acknowledge the concept, when many effective and efficacious ideas are already out there. However on the flipside another assemblage of researchers proselytize the idea by upholding the changes it brought about to the libraries. Their assertion is that after exercising the crowdsourcing principles, libraries have regained huge gratitude and fame, which in fact they were deprived of with the advent of ICT and allied technologies.

According to Oomen & Aroyo, “crowdsourcing has been seen a way to create a more open, connected and smart cultural heritage”. So where does the importance lie. In fact crowdsourcing has a immense significance in context of libraries. To put forth:

  1. Crowdsourcing has brought about a good rapport between library, library staff’s and public.
  2. Save the time of library staff thus invigorating them to perform more sophisticated and creative task, which in turn revivify the library.

Asserting on the aforementioned facts, if we meticulously comprehend one will understand the significance of crowdsourcing in this digital era. First of all we are living in an era where ICT has outweighed the libraries. Libraries are in the brink of cessation and people are ambivalent about the significance of libraries. They have been striving hard to sustain in this scenario by adhering to various concepts like “Maker Space in Library” with the vested aim of attracting the crowd.

These spaces are open to kids, adults, and entrepreneurs and have a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, cnc machines, soldering irons and even sewing machines. But is this the real way to attract more users? Is the funcion of library discharging authentic information or just engaging more users by imbibing to mall culture? Why are libraries so engrossed to these ideas when crowdsourcing allows people to meticulously engage in library activities thus associating them more towards library and unwittingly making them aware of the significance of library? In fact crowdsourcing is the need of the hour in a scenario where the significance of libraries have been subverted.


We are living in an era where libraries are at risk of disappearing, because of the advent of novel technologies. All over the world libraries are seldom visited and the magnitude of the libraries go down day after day. People overlooked the importance of libraries when Google is adept at answering their queries. More over humanity abstained from paying a visit to library and libraries have been deserted. In order to mitigate this deplorable situation, librarians have deployed various ideas including the “Maker Space”. However the outcome was in tantamount to the admission of failure. Furthermore crowdsourcing is being regarded as a concept which has been less employed in the library context, what ever was employed is just the tip of the iceberg. The idea has been widely acclaimed world over for engaging en masse of crowd under one roof. The ventures like Wikipedia, Youtube, DBpedia are finest examples of crowdsourcing. One the flip side as it has already been discussed libraries are striving hard to attract the users. In fact crowdsourdcing is a novel concept which makes use of crowd intelligence in accomplishing various tasks.

07 July 2022

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